A self-saucing pudding

For four or five months in summer the coolest places in Tel Aviv are under the air con in shop doorways, or the Gordon Pool, where the water is so heart-stoppingly cold you won’t want to get out. It cools you to your core, and makes you feel more comfortable for, oh, minutes, after you leave it. I never again want to live in such a hot city.

On the hottest days, the enormously fat man in the kiosk around the corner moves his chair from behind the counter, and sits at the open door of one of the tall drinks fridges, fanning himself, despite having air con. I not sure what really goes on there, or how he makes a living from it. He sells, I don’t know, cigarettes and beach balls and lottery tickets, but in the evening there’s always a small crowd of men cheering sports on the tv. It may seem inconsistent to hold a lottery in a country where betting is illegal, but I’ve heard that gambling is so popular with Israelis that croupiers in Monaco learn Hebrew. Maybe they want to make aliya, I can’t say.

By May the temperature is 30C, and even though it only rises by two or three degrees after that, the humidity in summer is killing. 32C feels like 42C. I crawl from shade to shadow, avoiding direct sunlight, like a damp vampire. At night, around eleven, the heat somehow gets a second wind. My use of wind, cooling, fresh, is an accident; really, it feels like the man from the kiosk is sitting on me. I go to bed, turn on the air con, and wake up after an hour, too cold, so I switch it off. An hour later I’m woken by the heat, my sheets sodden.

I finally wake up around seven, shiny with sweat, my mouth dry. I open the window and a gentle breeze passes over the cemetery outside, and then over me. I listen to the birds’ happy chatter. This is the best I will feel all day.

Most days I smell of insect repellent and deodorant, although it is a mystery to me why deodorant has a scent. A few months ago I bought an expensive fragrance, but I rarely use it. This isn’t really a country for expensive perfumes, they get lost in all the other smells you find in a hot place.

I’ve noticed that, somehow, my elbows have grown younger. I’m certain that a year ago they were more creased, rougher, too. But now I have the elbows of a young man: smooth, wrinkle-free, moist, even. And the rest of my skin has changed; it feels waxy, like a Sharon fruit, or, even, wax fruit. I notice that everyone here has the same soft sheen. Nathan, whose greatest fear is that he’ll develop a resistance to Botox, returned from Frankfurt with the face of an inexpressive eight year old. Yet my face is smoother, without a single syringe. I’m sure this is from sweating all day, for months, like a weird human waterfall. Oils and salts and I don’t know what ooze out of me, I’m literally self-basting. I’m a self-saucing pudding.

I say to Nathan that the only way I can bear the heat is in my apartment, naked, with the air con set to Arctic. He frowns and says he can never be naked. I ask if he wears jim-jams in bed. He nods, he does. Which of us is odd? Am I a debauched, old libertine, or is he a prim neurotic? Please don’t hesitate to send in your answer.

At breakfast, a handsome, shirtless man walks past. This is by no means unusual here. The heat isn’t all bad. He was thirtyish, honey-coloured, bearded and muscled, attractively, not ostentatiously, both his facial hair and physique. He had the right amount of golden hair glowing on his chest. He was beautiful. Two middle-aged French women at the next table watch him, their eyes following him like filings to a magnet. They make approving faces to each other. I make one to myself.

That evening, I pull myself away from the latest series of Game of Thrones to go for a drink at the Olive Korner. Ben stops to chat to me. Since coming here I have learned that everyone in the world thinks the English like to talk about the weather. This post may give some weight to that, I couldn’t say. It’s going to get cold soon, earlier than usual, he says. After a couple of days of the most subtle drop in humidity, it has grown too hot again. Every movement takes effort. My shirt clings to me, as heavy and wet as a dying squid. I look at Ben sceptically, but he continues, his face serious, Winter is coming. I’d have thrown something at him, if only I’d had the strength.

Today’s word: eesh madlik – cool guy – איש מדליק

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